Zoning Change for Unit Conversion Questioned at Planning Board

It was a zoning change that was supposed to have a welcome reception at the Planning Board on Monday night, but several on the Board were not exactly excited about a zoning change that would allow accessory dwelling units in many of the homes throughout the city that have illegal units.

Mayor Carlo DeMaria and the City’s Planning Department had proposed the measure – which essentially would allow one- and two-family homes with illegal units to be converted to three- and four- family homes without having to create parking. The idea was mostly for life safety, to encourage landlords to come out of the shadows and get their building legal, safe and up to code. A number of accidents and fires have taken place over the years due to such units, and the Administration was hoping the accessory dwelling unit (ADU) zoning change could eliminate those conditions.

Currently, anyone who wants to convert their buildings to the proper occupancy has to provide parking, which is either not possible or requires them to put in asphalt parking lots over the backyard – a pet peeve of Mayor DeMaria’s.

“The reality is the mayor last spring was looking at a lot of strategies about zoning and this is one we put forward and there is plenty of incentive here for doing this and adhering to building codes and improving public safety,” said Planner Tony Sousa. “We all know of the tragedies and fires we’ve had in recent years and the challenges we’ve had with illegal dwellings.”

The idea essentially is to make de facto units already there into legal units. Sousa said they believed parking would be an issue, but maybe not as much as one might think, because a lot of the vehicles are already in the neighborhood attached to illegal units.

It was believed that the Planning Board would look very favorably on the change, but it wasn’t universally well-received.

After a bit of a discussion on the change, the Board voted 2-3 not to recommend the change to the City Council. Though a non-recommendation was avoided, it was a close vote for such a major change.

That vote was rescinded and discussion picked up again as the public hearing was re-opened on the matter.

In one corner was Member Leo Pizzano arguing that parking was going to become an even bigger problem with this change. In the other corner was Member Jim Tarr who argued that the idea of parking cannot stop every change – as it often does.

“We have to get away from this idea that it is a divine right that every person living in Everett gets a parking spot,” he said.

“But it is their right,” said Pizzano. “Because these units will have cars and will be taking away their neighbors’ parking spots. You think because you say it’s fact, it is. I can’t prove it yet, but in a year you’re going to see (with the two large developments on Broadway)…You will have your MBTA route and it probably will be going great and they’ll use it. But they will also have cars.”

That has been the argument for a long time at the Planning Board as the members have sparred frequently over the philosophy of Everett being a car community or a car-free community.

The Board has continued the matter to the Oct. 13 meeting where Traffic Commission Officer Joe Gaff will present on parking issues in the city – especially in the overnight hours.

A pilot program that was similar to the ordinance proposed in Everett has been piloted in East Boston, and Somerville has adopted something similar.

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